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By Chere Di Boscio
Architecture has changed dramatically over the centuries to accommodate people’s ever-changing needs. Large houses for large families have been converted into apartments; apartments have grown from 6 or 7 stories to massive skyscrapers to house increasingly large human populations, for example.
But cities full of skyscrapers can be dehumanising, and with larger populations comes a greater scarcity of resources, and so architects are dreaming up ways of making cities and the structures in them greener, with a variety of innovative, futuristic concepts.
I asked some key architects and urban planners for what they believe will be some of the key sustainable solutions for cities for the coming years, and I must say – from glow in the dark trees to urban farming and beyond, their answers were quite surprising.
1. 3D Homes: Download and print your pad?
Did you know the biggest source of landfill is construction waste? Timber, drywall, brick, metal, glass, plumbing materials–it’s all responsible for creating more garbage than anything else in the world. But there is one way to reduce this greatly: 3D printing.
There have already been experiments done with this technique in China, which involve using four giant 3D printers, which produce a mix of cement and construction waste to construct the walls layer by layer, a process much like how a baker might ice a cake. This method literally produces no waste–but there are other benefits, too.
3D printing can also help clients translate homeowners’ dreams into reality–one day, most architects will be able to construct small scale 3D designs of their projects to show clients how they will look before construction starts. Jay Hargrave of the eponymous luxury architecture design firm thinks this is important, as customers are often quite firm about what they have in mind, and it is therefore key that the architect understands that: “Many of our customers come to us with strong ideas about their project and the way they expect it to be delivered,” says Hargrave. “Thus, we attribute our architecture solutions to the vision of the customer and our process. That’s why our projects look so different from one another; they are expressive of the individuals that commission them”.
2. Glow in the dark trees & urban wetlands
A new report by Arup, the engineering and design consultancy behind the ‘Garden Bridge‘ in London and a new smart cities project in Christchurch, New Zealand, has revealed how cities around the world will change in response to climate change, resource scarcity and increasing urban flooding.
Developed by Arup’s Foresight + Research + Innovation and Landscape Architecture teams, ‘Cities Alive’ predicts that technology and nature will work together seamlessly to create cities that are an integrated network of intelligent green spaces. Buildings may be transformed into vertical urban farms, while glow in the dark trees, solar powered pathways and urban wetlands and forests will become common features, crucial for our adaptation to climate change and avoidance of urban flooding.
With the critical issue of feeding ever growing urban populations, Arup predicts that food production will take place within city buildings, with purpose-built vertical farms soon becoming a regular feature in cities. These urban farms will also play a role in reconnecting city dwellers with nature, teaching citizens about home-grown food and offering a glimpse of a more secure and sustainable food supply.
The report also suggests that we may turn to the wild urban environment to meet growing food demands, with citizens foraging within the city for fruits, edible greenery and even insects. This could also lead to parkland being used for urban farming activities, or as solar and wind farms, for example.
3. Greener urban environments overall
The report also looks at the importance of creating higher quality public places and greener urban environments through high quality landscape design in order to protect our cities from flooding and increase the health and wellbeing of citizens. With sea levels and temperatures rising, unadaptable or poorly designed urban environments will suffer the most from these changes. Arup’s report outlines the need to shift from structural defenses to more natural solutions to protect our cities including replacing impermeable concrete, tarmac or roofed areas with more permeable surfaces such as reed beds and other wetland habitats. Increasing tree cover within urban areas can also reduce flood risk, with one study estimating that for every 5% increase in tree cover area, run-off is reduced by 2%.
According to the report, the benefits additional green spaces will provide in terms of increasing health and wellbeing are many, and include: Increasing life expectancy by up to five years; encouraging people to walk more; reducing sick days and also the cost of health care to the state.
4. Far More Natural Lighting
In a bid to reduce the carbon footprint of cities, Arup’s report states that lighting used within cities will become highly sustainable and integrated into nature. Innovations such as non-toxic sprayable light absorbent particles can be applied in public spaces including on roads, buildings and pathways, bringing additional light and safety to parks and alleyways. Even our trees could produce light at some point in the future, with bioluminescence being spliced into their trunks and branches, significantly lowering the environmental impact of street lighting.
Be it from bioluminescence or low energy lighting generated from urban wind farms, there is no doubt that the future of urban architecture looks very bright indeed.